NEW ORLEANS -- Approximately 110 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Command Element arrived here Sept. 3 to set up a command and control center and support group to aid Joint Task Force Katrina.
These Marines now comprise the Special Purpose Marine Air/Ground Task Force Katrina, which is based at Naval Air Station Belle Chasse, La., 10 miles southeast of New Orleans.
While the city sits in ruins in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the MEU is taking slow, deliberate steps to make way for larger forces on the way with large-scale assistance for thousands of victims of the storm.
The members of the new SPMAGTAF had minimal notice before packing up and shipping out, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Marlena Cox, a corpsman with the command element.
“Right now, the big effort is getting food, water, and the basic necessities of life to individuals. Security plays a role in that because we have to protect the assets that are used to conduct humanitarian assistance. Of course, we also have to protect our Marines and make sure they’re safe as well,” said Maj. Devin C. Young, staff judge advocate of the 24th MEU.
“We started planning this on Thursday, and the command element came in Saturday. We were up and operational in less than 6 hours,” he added.
“What we’re involved in here is military support to civil authority,” he continued, “that gives the president the authority to order federal forces to aid civilian agencies for disaster relief and humanitarian aid.”
Staff Sgt. Miguel Rivera is the platoon sergeant and frequency manager for communications within the command element. He noted that although this is not a traditional war operation commonly associated with the Corps, it’s not an unfamiliar call to duty.
Rivera also noted communications are one of the most critical assets to the command element, and the establishment of solid, reliable contact is a major step at this stage in the game.
As the command element proceeds to build, wire, and boot up a headquarters for humanitarian assistance, the service members hold a strong sense of purpose.
“This is a great effort and I’m glad I got the chance to come out here and help. I didn’t want to stay back and do nothing when there are people in a crisis and they need help,” said Cox.
“We’re coming in here because American citizens need us to come in and help them out. We, as the military, have the assets to do that, the president has decided to use that, so here we are. We’re going to help this region out to overcome this major natural disaster,” added Young.
Given the size and scope of relief efforts here, the Marines are ready for any mission they may be asked to complete.
“There was really no expectation; we just have to keep adapting. That’s what Marines do,” said Rivera.